By Tony Attwood
The resentment that built up with Arsenal’s development in south London and the move to the north extended far beyond the petty jealousy of Tottenham and the desire of local residents in Islington to keep the club out of their borough.
The fact that it was wider came because of a number of issues that Woolwich Arsenal established during their extraordinary existence.
For a start they did show once and for all that under Football League rules there was nothing to stop any club moving anywhere. Clubs like Tottenham which believed that somehow a place in the Football League was a franchise for the area, which restricted other clubs from moving into the area were shown to be in error. The League said in 1910 and again in 1913 that they had now rules on the issue.
But this was merely the latest in a series of developments – all of which were innovations and all of which caused offence somewhere.
1. We took professionalism south – prior to Arsenal’s move into professionalism, the League and pro football was just a midlands and northern thing.
2. We took league football south. There simply were not any leagues in the south before. We actually created the first one – and then when that was slow in getting off the ground joined the Football League.
3. Arsenal survived despite a possible boycott – it was suggested that the local FAs would arrange a boycott of a pro Arsenal team. Arsenal offered their resignation from the local FAs but the clubs would have none of it. They wanted a professional Arsenal available to play.
4. Arsenal established a local rivalry
Before Arsenal moved to under 3 miles from Tottenham’s ground there were no very local rivalries in England. Yes there were teams in the same city, but few really as close and intense as this one. Liverpool and Everton were there, but otherwise not many others. We made local rivalry a thing that existed outside of Merseyside.
5. We set the local authority straight – football could be a benefit to the local community. Within a couple of weeks of Highbury opening, Islington Borough Council were backing down, and recognising the benefits of a local team.
6. Arsenal fought corruption. While Tottenham allege the opposite in fact Arsenal exposed the corruption of Liverpool with its match fixing in 1913 and 1915.
7. Arsenal set up the first Southern League. It didn’t get off the ground – but it was close, and a couple of years later, a real alternative to the Football League sprang up.
8. Arsenal recognised travelling support – we had away supporters before virtually anyone else.
9. Arsenal started the season ticket idea.
10. And above all Arsenal established the notion of the flexibility of the ground’s position. Just because a ground started in one place it did not mean it could not move.
Now one might think that these innovations would be welcomed by football – but not a bit of it. Football had for years been conservative – and changes of the wholesale nature introduced by Arsenal brought resentment.
Just how far that went will be seen in the next article in this series.